The 'Book Review

MacBook Improved, Battery Life and Keyboard Issues on New MacBook Pros, eSATA Options, and More

This Week's MacBook, PowerBook, and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2010.05.21

General Apple and Mac desktops is covered in The Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in The iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion


Tech Trends

Products & Services

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Apple Speed Bumps MacBook, Adds Faster Graphics and 10 Hour Battery Life

Without so much as a press release, on Tuesday Apple gave the unibody white MacBook its first refresh since being introduced last October, and it's a substantial one.

It wasn't a big surprise after a Vietnamese tech website spilled the beans last weekend, complete with an unboxing video, but what's with the stealth upgrades, Apple?

MacBook portsAnyway, under the hood, the MacBooks gets essentially the same configuration as was introduced with the base model 13" MacBook Pro last month - a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor teamed with an Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics processor - a substantial upgrade from the 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo and GeForce 9400M GPU of the previous model - especially the graphics processor, which Apple claims provides a performance boost of up to 80% over the previous generation.

10 hour battery lifeThe other big news is the battery upgrade. The original unibody white MacBook's built-in battery performance was more than respectable, but up 10 hours on a full charge is spectacular, providing the staying power you need for long flights, all-day workshops, marathon study sessions, and even power outages. The new energy-efficient Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics processor improves battery life by using less power for everyday tasks like writing email and surfing the Web, and Apple says thanks to its advanced battery chemistry and adaptive charging technology, the MacBook battery can be recharged up to 1000 times - five years of typical use, nearly three times the lifespan of typical notebook batteries.

More good news - the Mid 2010 MacBooks support both video and audio out via that Mini DisplayPort, a boon for users who connect laptops to a TV via HDMI. This brings the MacBook up to spec with current generation of MacBook Pros and iMacs.

new MagSafe connectorThere's also a new MacBook Air-style MagSafe connector that points the adapter cord backward to hug the case rather than sticking out at a 90° angle from the computer body, and the SuperDrive optical drive is now double-layer.

Aside from these changes, the new MacBook appears is be pretty much identical in spec to the October 2009 version - the 250 GB 5400 RPM hard drive and 2 GB of 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (upgradable to 4 GB) are carried over from the previous model. And, alas, no FireWire port and no SD Card slot.

The price of entry to the MacBook club remains $999.

New MacBook Supports Both Audio and Video Data I/O Through VESA-Compliant Adapters

A new Apple Knowledge Base article says the newly refreshed MacBook can now connect to an external display, projection device, or TV that uses a DVI, HDMI (audio and video)1 or VGA connector with a separate adapter, but to make sure to use a VESA-compliant adapter for full HDMI capabilities. You can purchase adapters for supported video formats from Apple.

iFixit: Mid 2010 MacBook Teardown

Mid 2010 MacBook TeardownPR: New higher capacity battery can be retrofitted to October 2009 MacBooks (but unlikely users will see 10 hour runtime without the Revision B model's super-efficient Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics chipset)

Apple updated the MacBook with much milder official changes this year - most notably a better graphics processor and more battery life - but we wanted to see for ourselves exactly how the laptop evolved.

We ventured inside the MacBook to find out how Apple achieved the claimed 10 hour battery life, as well to see if there were any magical unicorns that they chose to keep hidden from public view.

Mid 2010 MacBook TeardownHighlights:

  • The battery is identical in size and shape to the old one, but is rated for 63.5 Wh (compared to 60 Wh) and weighs 355 g (compared to 347.5 g).
  • The battery also works in the previous MacBook! You can get an extra 350 mAh of electric charge if you're willing to add 7.5 grams to your older machine.
  • Of course, Apple continues to use tri-wing screws for the battery, as well as the "Do not remove the battery" warning sticker. We ask: why is it such a big deal to have users replace it themselves?
  • The layout is so similar to the earlier version of the MacBook that users can use them to repair the new machine:
  • We confirmed the updated Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics, much to the thrill of lite gamers everywhere.
  • Other notable chip winners include Realtek RTL8251CA ethernet, Cirrus Logic 4206ACNZ audio, Cypress CY8C24 16 KB Flash PSoC, and dual TDK 6T213HF packages.

No MacBooks were hurt, in any way, shape, or form, during the teardown process.

Are MacBook, 13" MacBook Pro Too Close for Comfort Again?

Macworld's Jonathan Seff says that the release of new 13" MacBook Pro (MBP) models, now followed-up by a refreshed MacBook, has closed the gap and narrowed the value equation. Of the nine distinctions he had identified between the previous 13" MBP and MacBook models, almost half of them are no longer issues, noting that the only MacBook Pro technological feature that you can't replicate (at least with a peripheral) on the MacBook is its FireWire port, although the Pro's backlit keyboard, SD Card slot, and aluminum unibody enclosure still tip the desirability scale in the base MacBook Pro's favor. But enough to justify the 20% higher price?

Potential Fixes for Short Battery Life on New MacBooks

Apple Toolbox's ATB says that some users have reported much shorter than advertised battery life from brand new MacBook Pros, including the mid-2010 MacBook Pros and the just-released MacBook, noting that although real-world battery life often falls far short of manufacturer claims, some users are seeing battery life half or less of that indicated by some tests under similar usage conditions, experiencing battery life of 3 to 4 hours under normal usage conditions.

Suggested fixes include battery calibration, using gfxCardStatus to disable the GeForce 330M graphics processor, and reinstalling OS X.

Keyboard Problems Afflict Some 2010 MacBook Pros

Hardmac's Lionel reports that a reader with a MacBook i7", 8 GB, 500 GB hard drive says that his "small but pretty jewel" will freeze, making it impossible to use the keyboard, eventually blocking keyboard input completely, requiring a complete restart of the machine. After some research, he's determined that the problem seems to affect a great number of core i5 and i7 machines.

Charles Moore reports the same problem with his Late 2008 Unibody MacBook and OS X 10.6.3, so it seems likely that this is a software/OS problem, not a hardware one. Moore's solution was to switch back to OS X 10.5.8, an option not available to those with recent 'Books that requires OS X 10.6 or later.

iPad No Substitute for MacBook Air

Cnet's Brooke Crothers notes that after rumors of a MacBook Air update last week proved groundless, the question still remains as to whether the Air is on the endangered species list. Will it be allowed to just wither away from non-update inattention?

Crothers contends that, contrary to what some iPad enthusiasts and even Apple Store sales representatives have been known to suggest, the iPad really doesn't come close to being an adequate substitute for the MacBook Air, which, despite its several compromises, is a real Mac OS X laptop computer. As the owner of both an Air and an iPad, Crothers can say this with some degree of authority.

He cites the Air's full-sized physical keyboard, larger display, USB port (better than none, which is what you get with the iPad), built-in printing capability, the aforementioned full-fledged Mac OS X, powerful Core 2 Duo processor, likewise powerful Nvidia 9400M graphics, and support for multitasking, not to mention the iPad's Flash support deficiency.

Crothers acknowledges that the Air is being somewhat squeezed between the higher-end iPad models and the 13" MacBook Pro, making it arguably a bit redundant, but he notes that the 13" MBP is still a pretty conventional laptop with its relatively soggy weight (4.5 pounds - not the 5.6 pounds cited by Crothers, which is the figure for the 15" MacBook Pro) compared with the Air's 3 pounds and iPad's 1.5 pounds.

Crothers says he would understand if Apple doesn't update the Air, but still hopes it will. Me too.

Only 1% of Potential Netbook Buyers Will Choose a Tablet Instead

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer reports that Apple's iPad won't put a crimp on sales of netbooks this year, according to ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr, who projects that with an estimated ship volume of 58 million, netbooks have made the consumer mass market grade, but that the iPad is too expensive to be mass market.

ABI and Orr estimate that about 8 million tablet computers, including iPads, will ship during 2010. Dent netbook sales? Orr thinks not, suggesting that a mere 1% of potential netbook buyers will end up buying tablets. Orr perceives the iPad as neither complement to nor replacement for a netbook, but more comparable to a smartphone.

MacBook Pro eSATA Options

Mac Performance Guide for Digital Photographers & Performance Addicts' Lloyd Chambers says that MacBook users looking to add storage have limited options, but those lucky enough to have a MacBook Pro with an ExpressCard/34 slot have a high performance option: eSATA (external SATA). Other users will have to be content with FireWire 800 or go the ultra high performance dual internal drive route, as with an MPG Pro Laptop.

Chambers' report analyzes with eSATA performance via three add-on cards that fit the ExpressCard/34 slot on the 17" MacBook Pro and certain other earlier-generation 15" and 17" MacBook Pro models. Only one of these cards allows booting from an external SATA drive. Sadly, Apple eliminated the ExpressCard/34 slot on the current 15" model, and the 13" MacBook Pro never had it. Users of those models will have to be content with FireWire 800, which is also covered in this report.


15" MacBook Pro 'World's Best Designed Notebook Computer'

PC Advisor's Andrew Harrison says:

"Intel Core i7 processor, meet the Apple MacBook Pro: what happens when the world's fastest mobile processor meets the world's best designed notebook computer?

"Apple was a little late in slipping Intel's new mobile processors into its notebook line. The first Intel Core i7 for mobile use appeared late last year, but only now do we see one offered in a MacBook Pro, the Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2010) 2.66 GHz Core i7.

"The reason for the delay is not too hard to find: Apple's wise reticence in fitting an ill-suited processor just to follow tech fashion.

"In the desktop range, the Intel Core i7 pretty much rules the roost in high-end personal computing.

"Not only is the MacBook Pro 15in the best constructed notebook computer you can find, it's now also one of the very fastest. In fact, it's the most powerful laptop we've ever tested. If you need the best designed notebook money can buy, or just a safe and dependable operating system running on the fastest portable hardware, the MacBook Pro 15in Core i7 sets the new benchmark."

15" MacBook Pro a 'Class Act'

The Register's Alistair Dabbs reports:

"Now equipped with a Core i5 CPU, this mid-range Mac makes a lasting impression . . . It's only now, having had the chance to play with Apple's latest MacBook Pro, that I realise that everything that came before it was so dreadfully ordinary . . . It's also much slimmer than I had imagined: indeed, it is just 5mm thicker than the innovative MacBook Air....

"Talking of power, note that the MacBook Pro 15in never gets as hot as other notebooks....

"The trackpad feels responsive and rock-solid, as indeed it should: it's made of glass . . . responds to a range of multifingered gestures.

"My one serious complaint is that the unit is so thin that Apple is unable to provide as many connectivity ports as I'd like . . . the lonely Apple Mini-Display port is a bit of a disappointment too . . . [you will] have to purchase one or more of Apple's £21 video adapters.

"[The] new MacBook Pro 15in is a gorgeous notebook to use . . . You're telling yourself 'I paid way too much for this' but you love every second of it."

15" MacBook Pro: Is the Higher Resolution Screen Worth It?

Gizmodo's John Herrman reports on a new option offered with the latest revision of the 15" MacBook Pro: a higher-resolution 1680 x 1050 screen displaying about 30% more pixels than the standard 1440 x 900 screen. Is it worth the extra up front $100 cash outlay?

Gizmodo compared a high-res 15" MBP against a standard resolution model and says the difference is striking, but for reasons you might not anticipate, finding the high-res surprisingly dimmer than the standard screen at its lowest and highest brightness settings, but noting that the slightly subdued brightness pays off in deeper blacks and more vivid colors.

Herrman says vertical and horizontal viewing angles are deemed to be about the same, but that the newer screen looks sharper and richer. One caveat: If you sit further from your screen, you could find yourself squinting.

Tech Trends

Toshiba Mulls Hybrid Flash and Spinning Drive - SSD + HDD = SSHD

The Register's Chris Mellor reports that Toshiba is considering building a hybrid solid state hard drive containing both flash memory and a spinning disk, citing a Tech-On report that quotes a Toshiba spokesman saying: "The hybrid of HDD and SSD enables to save energy. It enables to save energy by about 80 per cent compared with a storage device consisting of only HDDs."

Will Hybrid SSD/Hard Drive Products Succeed?

The Register's Chris Mellor reports:

"Zsolt Kerekes of StorageSearch, who follows the SSD market closely, thinks it would fail if brought to market. He said: 'I've always thought that 2.5-inch hybrids (SSD + HDD) were a waste of space - ever since the idea surfaced. It doesn't matter who makes them.'"

Products & Services

ViewGuard Antiglare Screen Protectors for All MacBooks

PR: Intelligen LLC announced the availability of its expanded line of ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors, providing a selection of more than one hundred standard and custom sizes. Created for use in locations where sunlight and fluorescent lighting may cause potential glare, the expanded line of ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors are now available at with a MSRP starting at $24.99.

The ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors for notebooks, laptops and flat-screen monitors are designed with an antiglare matte coating, reducing glare and reflections caused by natural and artificial lighting. Users can comfortably use their computer in bright settings, including office buildings, cafes and parks, as well as near windows. Attaching directly to the surface of LCD screens, the matte screen protectors feature glare reduction and reduce potential eyestrain.

ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors for notebooks, laptops and flat-screen monitors reduce glare and harmful ultraviolet rays while protecting your LCD display from scratches. ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors easily attach directly to the surface of your LCD screen and the antiglare matte finish reduces glare and reflections caused by natural and artificial lighting.

ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors feature the following:

  • Antiglare Technology - Reduces glare and reflections caused by natural sunlight and artificial lighting
  • Screen Protection - Protects screens from fingerprints, smudges and scratches
  • Touchscreen Compatible - Compatible with touchscreens including Ultra-Mobile PCs and Tablet PCs
  • Anti-Ultraviolet - Reduces harmful ultraviolet exposure
  • Low-Profile Frameless Design - Seamlessly fits onto a display and stays attached even when the notebook is closed

ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protectors are now available in the HDTV 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio format for the following display sizes - 10.1", 11.1", 11.6", 13.1", 13.3", 14.0", 15.6", 16.0", 16.4", 18.4", 20.0", 21.5", 23.0", and 24.0" - as well as other aspect ratios.

Mac Models

  • 13" MacBook (White or Black) ViewGuard Antiglare Frameless Privacy Filter (11.28" x 7.05") - $49.99
  • 13" MacBook Air ViewGuard Antiglare Frameless Privacy Filter (11.28" x 7.05") - $49.99
  • 13" Aluminum Unibody MacBook Pro ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protector - $17.99
  • 13" MacBook (White or Black) ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protector (11.28" x 7.05") - $15.99
  • 13" MacBook Air ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protector (11.28" x 7.05") - $15.99
  • 15" Aluminum Unibody MacBook Pro ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protector - $19.99
  • 17" Aluminum Unibody MacBook Pro ViewGuard Antiglare Matte Screen Protector - $21.99

ViewGuard products can be ordered online from

Bargain 'Books

For deals on current and discontinued 'Books, see our 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, 13" MacBook Pro, 15" MacBook Pro, 17" MacBook Pro, 12" PowerBook G4, 15" PowerBook G4, 17" PowerBook G4, titanium PowerBook G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G3, and iBook G3 deals.

We also track iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, iPod classic, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle deals.

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